Harmonics messing with my head

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Little_Wing, Feb 14, 2020.

  1. Little_Wing

    Little_Wing Member

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    So I'm learning Joe Satriani's Summer Song and there's this harmonic thing at the beginning which should be easy as it's only four notes. It's A string/5th fret, A/4th fret, D/5th and G/5th. The trouble is that the first note is lower than the second note and my brain refuses to accept this. It keeps making me play it the other way around as its conditioned to higher notes being played on higher frets. The last two notes are no problem as they're on higher strings which my brain will accept. It gets even crazier when I have to descend playing the same notes backwards. Frustrating! I know with practice, I'll get it together but I wish my brain were like a computer. Harmonics are weird!
     
  2. FwLineberry

    FwLineberry Member

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    Pretend the second harmonic is on the next higher string instead o the same string.

    .
     
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  3. abracadabra

    abracadabra Member

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    I remember this screwing with my brain as well. but as you say the solution was the same as always:

    practice slow and steady then build it up

    but then there's a wierd (but really cool) little fill in the middle of the second verse where you have to play it again after a little slidy thing on the 10th-12th frets. that messed with my brain even more!

    but really worth getting it down. it's a great song
     
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  4. stevel

    stevel Member

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    If you were to play your E string at the 12th fret you'd have an E.

    Do it.

    Now, pluck the "wrong" side of the string. You'll hear a note close to E.

    Now do this at the 5th fret - you'll get an A that is of course lower than the E at the 12th.

    But pluck the "wrong" side "behind" the A note - you'll get a note much higher than the E at the 12th.

    In fact if you tap with your left hand without plucking you'll probably barely hear the note on the "wrong" side of the note, but if you listen for it you can hear it go "up" as you go down.

    This should make sense because the way we make a string get higher is go "shorten" it - get closer to the bridge.

    But the thing is, what you're REALLY doing is dividing the string into two parts - each of those parts has a vibrating length and thus makes a note.

    It's just that we have the soundhole and top, or pickups, only on one side of the string.

    But the other side makes notes as well.

    So it makes sense that as that side approaches the nut, it's getting shortened, but gets higher.

    harmonics work somewhat similarly. When you touch the node at the 12th fret you're dividing the string in half.

    Now the twist is, when you play a harmonic at the 7th fret, you are dividing the string into 3rds - so there's actually another one of the same harmonic at the 19th fret - try it - you'll see.

    In fact, every harmonic that's on the "left" of the 12th fret (below it, over the fingerboard) is duplicated past the 12th fret.

    The harmonic at the 5th fret divides the string into 4ths - so there is another one where if you had a 24th fret would be (the one at the 12th fret is part of these quarters but it being half over-rides the 1/4s).

    The harmonic at the 4th fret is the same as the one at the 9th fret, and it duplicate again above the 12th fret - because it's in smaller divisions.

    So basically the harmonics you play over the fingerboard are "mirrored" around the 12th fret. I bet if you played them only above the 12th fret they'd make perfect sense to you.

    But, we want to be able to place them over certain frets to find them - and they'd get in the way of picking if we played them all "high" instead of low.

    So we play the "wrong side" for convenience since they're available on both sides.

    Hope that helps.
     
  5. Little_Wing

    Little_Wing Member

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    I think what you're saying is to play the harmonics at different places on the fretboard. These harmonics are played pretty quickly and i'm not very fast at moving up and down the fretboard, especially when it requires a light touch. I think I can only manage them when they're on the 5th and 4th frets at that speed. I'm sure with practice I'll train myself to do it but thanks for the help just the same.
     
  6. Ray175

    Ray175 Member

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    Do it slowly and build up speed. I had the same problem for some time with using open strings in the middle of riffs further up the fretboard - it seemed counter intuitive that the "higher" string, produced a note that was lower than the fretted "lower" string. For instance, playing a riff involving an open B and a D on the 7th fret of the G string. The D is a highr note, but layed on a "lower" string. Country players use this to great effect , as does Jerry Donahue.
    I also do this with DADGAD tuning because it allows you to leave several strings ringing out at the same time - which is great for traditional celtic music on an acoustic.
    Practice, practice, practice
     
  7. JonR

    JonR Member

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    The point was to explain why the 4th fret harmonic is a higher pitch than the 5th fret harmonic.;)
    It's because a shorter length of the string is vibrating.
    The 5th fret harmonic means the string is vibrating in quarters - the distance from 0-5. The 4th fret harmonic means the string is vibrating in 5ths - the 0-4 distance. Shorter lengths (on the same string) vibrate faster.
    The open A string vibrates at 110 Hz.
    12th fret harmonic is 220 Hz: 1/2 string length = 2x frequency (= A on 3rd string fret 2).
    7th fret harmonic (= 19th fret harmonic) is 330 Hz: 1/3 string length = 3x frequency (E, same note as open 1st string)
    5th fret harmonic (= 24th fret harmonic) is 440 Hz: 1/4 string length = 4x frequency (A, 1st string fret 5)
    4th fret harmonic (= 9th and 16th fret harmonics) is 550 Hz: 1/5 string length = 5x frequency (C#, 1st string fret 9 - almost)
    ...etc.

    NB: the 4th (9th, 16th) fret harmonic is out of tune with equal temperament. If you tune your A string (and/or the 12th and 5th fret harmonics) according to your tuner, then you should see the 4th fret harmonic reads flat (to be precise, it's around 14 cents flat). So don't tune the string to that note! It's a "pure" major 3rd, so sounds fine with other harmonics, but if you tune the 9th fret of the top E string precisely (chromatic tuner setting), and play that alongside the 4th fret (or 9th fret) harmonic on the A string, you should hear that they are out of tune with one another. (The tuned C# is 554 Hz, meaning a 4 Hz difference from the harmonic. That equates to "beats" between the notes - an audible pulsing - of 4 per second; way more than enough to sound "out of tune".)

    The 7th/19th fret harmonic is also out of tune with ET, but only by a negligible 2 cents. Your tuner probably won't show that.
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2020
  8. Bryan T

    Bryan T aspiring cartographer and social media influencer Silver Supporting Member

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    It is a bit odd at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. The muscle memory is just different. Learning the pitch (and octave) of each will help in the long run.

    The between-string minor seconds are lots of fun to exploit in playing melodies.
     
  9. MikeMcK

    MikeMcK Supporting Member

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    Maybe it helps to think of the physics of what's actually happening. When you play a harmonic, you're basically muting some of the components of an open string sound. IOW, the 12th fret harmonic is just the sound of the open string but with the fundamental and some other harmonics "removed". Finding the nodes is just a matter of finding divisions of the string length... the 12th fret is at half the string's length. The 7th fret is 1/3rd the length, the 5th fret is 1/4th, etc. Basically that division of the string becomes the fundamental of the harmonic you're playing, so the shorter the distance to the nut, the higher the frequency.
     
  10. stevel

    stevel Member

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    No that's absolutely not what I'm saying.

    What I'm saying is, when you shorten the string length, you get higher pitches.

    When you play a harmonic, you're dividing the entire length of the string into smaller portions - ta da - higher pitches.

    What I was trying to illustrate is that when you play a fret, there are two sides to the string - the sounding side (the note you hear) and hte "backside" which is the portion over the fingerboard - that does still make sound - and it's that side that as you play lower notes actually goes UP in pitch because that length is being shortened now.

    So harmonics work similarly - when you play the 7th or th 19th fret, they're both nodes of the string divided into thirds - and 1/3 of the string is smaller than the whole string, or 1/2 the string, so it's higher in pitch - so it doesn't matter if you play it at the 7th fret (which seems "wrong") or the 19th fret (which is like it should be) both ways are "making the string shorter" and thus raising the pitch.

    If it's any help, learn the intro to Rush's "Red Barchetta" which is all harmonics and will help you get used to playing various notes on them.
     
  11. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    This might push you over the edge:
     
  12. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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  13. JonR

    JonR Member

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    And if that doesn't:

    Good guitar-face value too.
     

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